By Agaju Madugba
If the Kaduna State House of Assembly eventually passes into law an Executive Bill currently before it, a resident risks spending two years in jail if he plays any cassettes containing religious recordings or music in his car. This is one of the several provisions of the proposed legal document tagged, “A Bill to Substitute the Kaduna State Religious Preaching Law, 1984” which Governor Nasir El-Rufai wants the lawmakers to approve, ostensibly as part of measures to curb the spate of religious upheavals in the area. Kaduna has had perhaps more than its fair dose of violent religious riots in northern Nigeria. Reports from human rights groups show that about 15,000 persons lost their lives in February and May 2000 alone when metropolitan Kaduna virtually went up in flames as sections of residents protested the move by government to hoist the Shariah flag in the state. Incidentally, the then Governor Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi had proposed before the House of Assembly, a Bill seeking to implement the Islamic Shariah legal system, after a successful launch of the initiative in Zamfara Started months earlier.
JNI, CAN to issue preaching licences
A major thrust of El-Rufai’s proposal is the establishment of an inter-faith ministerial committee to regulate the practice of the two main religions in the state, Christianity and Islam. Apart from this, there shall also be a committee of the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) with equal representation of the Izala and Darika religious groups, for Muslims and another committee by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). The inter-faith ministerial committee is expected to exercise supervisory control over JNI and CAN. Apart from certain restrictions which the proposed Bill places on the playing or blaring of religious recordings outside churches and mosques, a preacher may also be jailed for a period not exceeding two years if he preaches without a valid licence or engages in inciting religious teachings and uses derogatory terms in describing any religion. Under the Bill too, a preacher visiting Kaduna from outside the state is expected to obtain a permit to cover the period of his stay. For preachers who are resident in Kaduna State, the licence to preach has a life span of one year which may be renewed.
Rampant hate, inciting preaching
In fact, before now, the issue of alleged inciting statements credited to some preachers has been a source of worry to leaderships of religious groups in the state. In fact for the JNI, the matter was a subject of debate during the group’s 2015 annual pre-amadan conference last June in Kaduna when it noted that in spite of repeated calls by the Muslim leadership, some scholars still employed divisive comments during their Tafsir preaching, in the month of Ramadan. According to the JNI, “there is a growing trend of mystic doctrines expressed by some unguided extremists which are completely contradictory to the Islamic faith and principles. Many of the media houses that air Tafsir during Ramadan do not care to censor statements capable of destabilizing the Ummah.
Negative conducts contrary to the established creed of the Islamic faith are being exhibited by some scholars in their Tafsir sessions. Some Mufassirun (commentators) delve into unnecessary juristic arguments on issues which are categorically clear and on which there is consensus. There are some scholars whose sessions are inciting and there are some scholars whose sessions are full of mockery of others, rather than uplifting the spiritual well-being of the listeners. A number of the Mufassirun do not have the basic knowledge of Tafsir, therefore lack the capacity to conduct Tafsir.”
The JNI solution to such infringements appears to be similar to provisions of sections in the El-Rufai proposed regulatory document. According to the JNI, “the (Muslim) leadership should regulate the conduct of Tafsir, to control erring commentators and make it mandatory for any Mufassir to be screened and be given permission by the JNI or any authorized body before he can be allowed to venture into Tafsir.”
Beyond what may be a general consensus that government has the right to sanction clerics found guilty of inciting comments, however, some Christian and Muslim leaders in Kaduna say the proposed religious preaching law is as irrelevant as the Kaduna State Regulation of Religious Preaching Edict No 7 of 1984 which the Bill seeks to replace. For the Secretary of the Kaduna State branch of CAN, Rev. Sunday Ibrahim, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as well as the Penal Code law which is in force in northern Nigeria already prescribed sanctions to deal with clerics who err in the course of their preaching. He argues that provisions of the Kaduna religious Preaching Bill tend to duplicate extant laws of the land. Also speaking in an interview with Saturday Vanguard, another cleric, Sheikh Haliru Maraya, former Special Adviser (Islamic Matters) to former Governor Mukhtar Ramalan Yero, described the Bill as unrealistic saying that if it scales through the Legislature, the law will strip Muslims of the Constitutional right to practise their faith.
Preachers already licensed by Allah
According to Maraya, “if you look at the concept of preaching for the religion of Islam, it comprises two major aspects.The first one is the preacher and the second aspect is the mode of preaching, that is, how the preaching is conducted. As far as Islam is concerned, no government has the right to license a preacher because Almighty Allah has already given preachers their licences. They do not work for government, they work for the religion of Islam. Allah has enjoined believers to call people to the right path. But government has the right to come in when it comes to the aspect of the manner of conducting the preaching. Allah has enjoined preachers to to preach with wisdom. If it is conducted in a manner that is apparently considered in a bad manner, then that one is not preaching, as far as Islam is concerned.that is where government can regulate manner of preaching. Hate preaching should not be allowed.
Government can say that no preacher should mention the names of individuals, nobody should use the podium to cast aspersions on people or groups or other sects of the same religion, or cast aspersions on another religion. Government can say that no preacher in Kaduna State is allowed to abuse anybody while preaching. So, everyone should be allowed to preach but under certain guidelines. It contradicts the teaching of Islam to say that one cannot preach unless he is given a licence to do so. During the time of the Prophet of Islam, everyone could preach but under proper guidelines and during the times of the companions of the Prophet, particularly during the times of the first four Caliphs, everyone could preach but also under certain guidelines. And, it is also inconsistent with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as amended to say that somebody cannot preach without a licence. Section 38 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria gives every person the right to propagate their religion, either alone or in association with others. This means that whether you have a licence or not, every person has the right to preach. Preaching is part and parcel of the religion as far as Islam is concerned. If you say that I cannot preach without a licence it clearly means that one should not practise the religion. The Constitution says every person has the right to practise any religion, the right to change a religion and the right to propagate that religion. Government may have good intentions but it should not say that a preacher cannot preach without a licence. What happens if you give me a licence and then I go and conduct hate preaching? Giving a condition of obtaining a licence before preaching is contrary to the tenets of Islam and it is inconsistent with provisions of the Constitution.
Going by provisions of the Bill, if it is passed as it is now, what it means is that you cannot play CDs or cassettes with religious recordings in your car.I do not think that anybody has the right to stop you from playing a religious cassette in your car. Laws should be designed in such a way that that they are implementable. If this Bill sails through, the way it is, it cannot be implemented. And that is why nobody has even implemented the law since 1984. It is not practicable especially the areas of licence and playing of recorded religious materials.”
The CAN scribe says he shares the same view as what he describes as the larger section of Christians in Kaduna, concerning the Bill to check religious preaching. As he puts it, “the law has not even been in force since 1984 when it was enacted and amended in 1987. We have issues with the Bill. We define a preacher as someone called by God. There is a general call which has to do with everyone as Jesus said in the book of Matthew chapter 28, go ye into the world and make disciples of all nations. That is the general call. Then we have a specific call which has to do with the pastors, evangelists, prophets, teachers, among others.These ones have an office in the body of Christ. They go through particular denominations, schools or seminaries. They are then ordained and licensed by their various churches. Those are preachers by our definition.
Kaduna problem not religious
Government ought to have sat down with stakeholders and discussed, more so with all the crises we have had in Kaduna although if you dig deep, you find out that the crises didn’t actually start as religious crises. They were more of political but some people hijacked the situation. The problem in Kaduna is not religion. If there is improvement on the lives of the people, there will be development and where the people are not idle, nobody would want to go and cause problem. There is a saying that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Government should create more jobs and create conducive atmosphere for learning in the schools and workers should be paid their salaries as at when due. I should think that the government believes in the people and if Christians and Muslims say no to this Bill, that means there is a problem and government should listen to the people.”
However, the intention of the government is to check hate preaching that could lead to religious violence.
The bill may not be passed as it is but the good intention of the government should be appreciated and not misconstrued as being against freedom of religion which is already enshrined in the Nigerian constitution. And the governor has repeatedly said so. Freedom of religion remains.
Hate preaching will be barred by law and punishable by law. The entire Nigeria not only Kaduna needs such laws.
A BILL FOR A LAW TO SUBSTITUTE THE KADUNA STATE RELIGIOUS PREACHING LAW, 1984
In this law, unless the context otherwise requires:
“Authority” means express permission, consent or knowledge of the preacher, given by the relevant authority
“Governor” means the Governor of Kaduna State
“Preacher” means a person duly licensed by the Jama’atu Nasril Islam or the Christian Association of Nigeria, to preach
“Public place” means public resorts and includes markets, public institutions or centres and other facilities accessible to the public
“Relevant authority” means the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) or the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)
“State” means the Kaduna State of Nigeria
(1) The two major religions in the state shall be regulated by the following bodies:
(a) a committee of the Jama’atu Nasril Islam with equal representation of Izala and Darika religious groups in the case of Muslims, and
(b) A committee set up by Christian association of Nigeria, in the case of Christians
(c) An inter-faith Ministerial Committee to be appointed by the Governor
(2) The Inter-faith Ministerial Committee shal interface between the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) committees and exercise supervisory control over them.
The Committee shall comprise of the following:
(i) A Chairman to be appointed by the Governor on the recommendation of the Secretary to state Government
(ii) The Special Adviser to the Governor on Internal Security
(iii) The most senior official of government advising the Governor on Internal Security
(iv) A member representing Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN
(v) Representative of the Ministry of Justice, and
(vi) One representative each from the Nigeria police, the Department of State Security and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps not below the rank of Superintendent of Police or its equivalent.
(1) The religious bodies established under Section 4 (a) & (b) of this Law shall issue licences approved by the Ministerial Committee
(2) The licence shall be issued for a period not exceeding one year.
(3) A sponsored external preacher shall be issued a permit for the period of the event.
(1) There is hereby established in each Local Government Area of the state, a committee to screen applications for licences and recommend same to the Ministerial Committee for approval
(2) The committee shall consist of the following members:
(a) the Chairman and co-Chairman each representing the two major religions, to be appointed by the Governor on the recommendation of the Local Government Chairman of the area
(b) A representative of the Police not below the rank of Assistant Superintendent of police
(c) Two Muslims, one representing the Izala and Darika religious groups respectively
(d) Two representatives of the Christian Association of Nigeria, and
(e) A representative of the traditional institution.
(3) The proceedings of this Committee shall only be valid if there is a quorum of not less than five members with the Chairman and Co-Chairman jointly sitting with at least one member each representing the two major religions in attendance
The Committee established under section 6 shall;
(a) ensure compliance with the terms of the licences so issued and,
(b) Register accredited preachers all religious groups and organizations operating in the Local Government Area.
Provided that the permit to be issued to the licensed preaches shall specify the duration or the number of occasions it is to be used.
The Kaduna chapter of the Jama’atu Nasril Islam and the Christian Association of Nigeria shall have and keep records of the churches and mosques including the data of all its preachers in the state.
All cassettes, CDs, flash drives or any other communication gadgets containing religious recordings from accredited preachers may be played in the following places only:
(a) inside one’s house
(b) Inside entrance porch (Zaure)
(c) Inside the church
(d) Inside the mosque, and
(e) Any other designated place of worship
- Any cassette containing religious recording in which abusive language is used against any person or religious organization or religious leaders (past or present) is hereby prohibited in the state
- Members of the Ministerial Committee may be paid such allowances as may be determined by the Governor
- A person shall be guilty of an offence who, in contravention of this law;
(a) preaches without a valid licence
(b) Plays religious cassette or uses a loudspeaker for religious purposes after 8 pm in a public place
(c) Uses a loudspeaker for religious purposes other than inside a mosque or church and the surrounding areas outside the stipulated prayer times
(d) Uses a loudspeaker in vehicles plying the streets with religious recording
(e) Abuses religious books
(f) Incites disturbance of the public peace
(g) Abuses or uses any derogatory term in describing any religion or,
(h) Carries weapons of any description whether concealed or not in places of worship or to any other place with a view to causing religious disturbance shall be guilty of an offence
- A person who commits an offence under the provisions of this law shall be liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or a fine of N200,000 or both and have his licence revoked
- The Shariah courts and customary courts shall have jurisdiction try violators of this law summarily and shall on conviction give orders for the forfeiture or destruction of any vehicle, equipment, instrument, gadget or book or other material carrying any offensive message
- The Kaduna State Regulation of Religious Preaching Edict No 7 of 1984 is hereby repealed.